President Donald Trump’s fervent Islamophobia, which will likely surge again now that the Supreme Court has blessed the travel ban, is viewed as a kind of unique hostility towards Muslims.
Jennifer Williams, Vox’s deputy foreign and national security editor, and a Muslim herself, published a widely shared piece which argued, in part, that President George W. Bush “took a bold stand against anti-Muslim bigotry” by delivering a speech at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. in 2001, days after the September 11 attacks.
It’s almost incomprehensible how one could look back with longing at an administration, which so blatantly targeted Muslims. Yet, in every instance that Trump or members of his administration target Muslims, the reanimated corpse of the Bush presidency is forced into the public arena again, and a parade of commentators tell a story that is pure fiction about an administration that only exists in their heads.
What is it about this short address to a congregation of Muslims in Washington, D.C., that allows one to completely inoculate themselves against an administration responsible for horrific crimes against Muslims?
Bush oversaw years of brutal torture and war crimes, the detention of hundreds of Muslims, and inaugurated the covert Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CAARP), which led the barring of Muslims from immigration benefits and their placement on a “Terror Watch List.” Nevertheless, Bush has managed to rebrand himself into Bush the Painter, the endearing grandfather figure. That he now is presented by news media as a defender of Muslims adds a new dimension to this successful rebranding.
On November 30, Trump shared three posts from Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the fascist anti-immigration group known as Britain First. Of these videos, all of which purportedly showed Muslims engaging in violent attacks against white, non-Muslims, one was exposed as misleading. It actually was an incident involving two citizens of the Netherlands and not an assault by a Muslim migrant. There was no nefarious religious component to the crime.
The Netherlands Embassy in the United States responded to the video, writing “Facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law.” When pressed for comment, and confronted with questions regarding the authenticity of these videos, press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that President Trump shared such inflammatory material in order to “elevate the conversation” in regard to “real violence and real terrorism.”
The response to this absurd defense primarily focused on Trump’s anti-Muslim policies. But what was omitted is the reality that, Trump’s boorishness aside, the United States’ treatment of Muslims, both at home and abroad, has resulted in more than a decade of discriminatory policies and mass casualties in wars abroad.
There is also a reimagination of President Barack Obama’s administration, as if he was some kind of saint toward Muslims.
Under the Obama administration, intense surveillance of Muslims included “geo-mapping” their communities; the “Countering Violent Extremism” program (CVE), a product specific to his term in office, escalated surveillance measures; drone warfare, which originated with Bush, was expanded at historic lengths under Obama. This widening gyre of violence killed countless Muslims, and in one of the most prominent cases this included 16-year-old American Muslim Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a drone strike ordered by Obama in 2011.
Not to mention, tens of thousands of people were killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen in wars that the United States launched, expanded, or supported during Obama’s presidency.
The names of those killed, tortured, or spied upon under Bush or Obama are largely unknown, and the world may never know their names. Yet, their lives are worth more than any speech Bush or Obama could ever deliver behind the pulpits of our mosques, places they have no right to stand to begin with.
The tools that the Trump administration will use to further traumatize and target Muslims were introduced by the administrations many are praising. Donald Trump is weaponizing these anti-Muslim policies, and no amount of fanciful, post-presidency speech-making will eliminate this reality. Their words will never be enough for those who watched, and continue to watch, as their homes, livelihoods, and very identities are ripped away from them.